When the orange wave hit Quebec in the May 2 federal election, two new queer MPs were swept up in its wake and brought to Ottawa. Running under the NDP banner in his first election, 25-year-old chiropractor Dany Morin became the new MP for Chicoutimi-Le Fjord, much to his own surprise. In addition to serving as an opposition MP, Morin is also the NDP’s associate critic for LGBT issues.
Morin has said he struggled to get media attention during his campaign, although no contact information was listed on the NDP website, and the NDP’s central office couldn’t put Xtra in touch with him at the time.
Xtra recently caught up with Morin outside Reflections nightclub in Halifax, which Morin was visiting as part of Halifax Pride celebrations.
Xtra: What are you doing in Halifax?
Dany Morin: [NDP MP for Halifax] Megan Leslie invited me for Halifax Pride. As the NDP associate LGBT critic, it’s kind of my duty to come and visit the various LGBT communities in Canada. I missed a couple due to the fact that we were in Ottawa for so long [Parliament broke for the summer on June 27 following an NDP filibuster on back-to-work legislation for postal workers]. But Halifax Pride is my first one, St John’s [Newfoundland] is tomorrow, and Montreal at the beginning of August.
Xtra: How are you dividing up the LGBT portfolio with the other NDP critic for LGBT issues, Randall Garrison?
Morin: Randall Garrison’s the main one; I’m the associate. I’m mostly responsible for the French LGBT communities and the Eastern ones. Him being in British Columbia, we kind of divided the work in the summer.
We also set priorities before we left for the summer. The trans bill [which would add gender identity and gender expression to the Canadian Human Rights Act and the hate crimes provisions of the Criminal Code] is our main priority. It unfortunately died in the Senate [when the election was called] but it passed in the House of Commons, so we have a good chance to pass it again. Hopefully we’ll do that during the winter. Garrison was lucky enough to be at the top of the lottery, but first we have to gather more support on the Conservative side. A few Conservative MPs will probably vote again to pass it, but we have to find more allies this time.
Xtra: Do you think the bill can pass? The Conservatives were opposed to the bill in the last Parliament, and now they have a majority.
Morin: I feel pretty good because although the Conservative Party is kind of homophobic, there are lots of Conservative MPs who are pro-gay, but they feel that the riding would not like the fact that they would vote for such a bill. So we’ll have to use some finesse. The Conservative government can vote down all manner of bills, so we’ll have to be more strategic and find more allies for our bills to pass. We definitely want our trans bill to pass, so we’ll have to be very careful about that.
Xtra: It’s not common for a politician to be so frank about his colleagues. Do you really think the party is homophobic?
Morin: At the Conservative convention right after the election, the party passed a resolution to define once again the definition of marriage as man and a woman, and that is not gay-friendly at all.
Xtra: Are there unique issues that francophone LGBT communities are facing?
Morin: I think I cannot answer this question because I know the French communities but I don’t know the English communities enough to see a difference. Of course, Quebec has always been the most progressive province on gay rights. That’s why it’s been in our Human Rights Act since the ’70s I believe, while Alberta put it in their human rights act late in the 2000s range. [Note: “sexual orientation” has been read into Alberta’s human rights legislation since 1998, but was officially added to the legislation in 2009.] So yes, different communities among Canada have progressed at different paces.
Xtra: What do you think are the federal issues that are important to the francophone queer community?
Morin: The blood ban is one of my priorities, and I suspect it’s pretty much the same across Canada. The LGBT community is pretty appalled that our blood and our organs are still not judged worthy enough.
Right now, Randall and I are devoting pretty much all our time to the trans bill. [The blood ban] is lower on our priorities, but it’s still on the top.
I’m also kind of high on the lottery list, and I want to introduce my private member’s bill related to strengthening the anti-bullying laws. That’s also one of my priorities. There’s a lot of work to do, lots of things to do, and you’ll see about that.
I was kind of bullied as a child, and lately we have heard so many stories in Canada and the US about kids being bullied. It always has been that way, but nowadays kids are taking their own lives, or hating their lives. They’re really smart, brilliant, but hating going to school because they cannot study in such a hostile environment. I want to see what we can do on a federal level to protect those kids. As adults we’re strong enough to fight back, but kids, especially those kids, are often still not feeling comfortable in their own sexual orientation, so they are fragile.
Xtra: What can a federal anti-bullying law accomplish? Isn’t this a provincial jurisdiction?
Morin: I have to see how far I can strengthen the law. The bill isn’t written yet. It’s still early stages, but this is what I want to do. I have a year to write it before it’s my turn to debate my bill.
Like anything, take health for example, it’s still a provincial thing, but we still have things we can do on a federal level. It’s the same thing with bullying. It’s not only something that happens at school. Sometimes it happens at home, through the internet and social media, or in the streets. So there is something to do on a federal level.
Xtra: What was it like growing up gay in Saguenay?
Morin: Saguenay is not known for being the most open-minded region. My parents knew since I was 13 and through the years I talked about it to close friends of mine, but I waited until I was out of the region to be fully out. When I moved to Trois-Rivières to study chiropractics, I decided it was a new life and I decided to be out since day one. And I realized that people were so welcoming that I could try the same thing at home with all the distant relatives and distant family and general population.
Xtra: How did you come out to your parents at 13?
Morin: It’s not that I talked to them about it. It’s just that they found out that I had an interest in gay topics. They found some things on the computer.
Xtra: What kinds of things?
Morin: You know, kids around 13 are becoming interested in sexuality in general, so they go on the internet and look things up.
Xtra: What was their reaction?
Morin: They were surprised. At first they were distressed, I would say. It’s a reaction that is commonly seen among parents who just find out that their kids are gay, but through talking, after the shock they came through.
Xtra: How did you get involved in politics?
Morin: Jack Layton was elected leader, and I remember that I felt compelled to give money to the NDP. When I was a teenager, I read about politics, and naturally, I gravitated toward the NDP compared to the other parties because it reflects more my core values.
Xtra: And what are those?
Morin: My core values are all about social justice. I don’t define myself as a socialist but as a social democrat. Also, I was a small business owner, so I like the fact that the NDP wants to create more wealth but find ways to distribute it better. That is one of the main values, and also the environmental issues. The NDP has the best platform.
Xtra: Had you always wanted to run for office?
Morin: Yes, but I believed that I would have the traditional trajectory of any politician. After I retired at 50 or something, I would go into politics. But with this offer of the candidacy, I said to myself, “Dany, you have your chance to go into politics, and maybe this chance will not happen again.” So I jumped right in.
At first, what I wanted to do was convince more people to vote NDP in my riding because we only had eight percent in my riding [in the 2008 election]. So I knew the bar was very high, but quickly in the beginning of the campaign, I saw that I was getting more and more support. Eventually what started as a two-way race between the Conservatives and the Bloc became a three-way race, and eventually the Conservative got out of the picture and it was between me and the Bloc.
Xtra: At 25, you’re one of the youngest MPs in parliament —
Morin: I’m not really young compared to the other MPs. At 25, there are still eight younger MPs. I know what you mean, but I don’t feel like the McGill four or something [four NDP MPs who were elected while still students at McGill University].
I think that as individuals, we all approach parliamentary work differently, but I really do love the fact that in the NDP caucus we really do mix youth and experience together. I think that the work that will be produced in the next four years will be exceptional compared to, let’s say, the Conservatives who are mostly men, mostly older men. They cannot have what we have, which are different points of view, because in the caucus we bounce around different ideas or ways to approach an issue or a problem, so we always encourage discussions among ourselves. That’s why I love what’s happening in the caucus.
Xtra: How have you affected the debate in caucus so far?
Morin: If it would have been someone else, the question I posed relating to the increase in the hate crimes wouldn’t have been asked. I proposed this question three times before it was accepted. It had such a great impact. For 15 seconds, no one on the Conservative side knew what to say regarding the reported increase in hate crimes targeted to LGBT people, when one of their main priorities is to protect communities more. It should have been an easy answer. My question was “What will the government do to protect LGBT people more?” Nobody knew who should answer this question, and when someone finally stood up we only got a generic answer. I believe it was something like “Oh, the government will protect all people in Canada.” It’s kind of a bullshit answer.
Xtra: Do bullshit answers like that make you cynical about the process?
Morin: Cynical? A little bit, because I know that when on the opposite side or the Liberal side, if somebody asks me a question, I don’t want to give the easy generic politician reply. I try to give an honest answer, but I don’t fall into the traps that they are setting. As a politician I think it’s important to change the way we do politics in Canada. That’s why people are less interested in politics and are trusting politicians less and less. In 2011 we are ready to do politics differently. I think that includes in question period proposing good questions and giving honest answers. On my side, I’m answering truthfully and I hope that the Conservatives will do the same thing, but I’m kind of cynical about that.